Thursday, May 22, 2014

What Does Legacy Mean?

On January 24, 2014 I lost my husband, Ted. We were married for 40 years and had grown up in the same neighborhood. He was my best friend. Ted waged a valiant battle against duodenal cancer. From diagnosis to his death was a short 10 months. On February 28, 2014, I lost my son, Lateef to the complications of gran mal seizures. He was 41 years old and left a  wife and 2 daughters, 8 and 13 years old. I was devastated.

I've been thinking a lot about legacy lately.  What does the word legacy mean to you—how important is it? I’ve attended many corporate trainings where we were asked to write the obituary we’d like to have written about us. It was one of my favorite exercises because it made me think about the type of person I wanted to be. So it’s not like I never thought about legacy before but now, it has a much deeper meaning.

 Legacy is what one leaves behind. Ted struggled with the concept of legacy and though he was sure that part of his legacy was the children he left behind, he had a tendency to think that if he wasn’t financially successful he really had nothing of great value to leave behind—I’m not sure what Lateef thought about legacy because we never discussed it but I do know that he took his job as father very, very seriously. My thought is that legacy has nothing to do with money or success. Even those of limited means leave behind a legacy—a mark on those left behind.

 I was telling my grief counselor that I have been interested in death and dying since I was in my 40’s—read Elizabeth Kubler Ross and other authors on my own and for no other reason than that I was interested in the strength that it took to deal with loss and grief. So, I said to him, I should know how to deal with this. His answer? Reading the recipe for a cake is not the same as baking it! Simple and so, so true. I was not prepared for the double-barreled pain of losing my husband and son within 5 weeks of each other. One would be bad enough, but two—unbelievable! What it has done is encouraged me to think more deeply about legacy, Ted’s and Lateef’s and what I’d like my legacy to be.

 My husband, Ted, lived a good life and has left his mark on so many people. He was healthy and loved working out. He loved children and was a Big Brother to two little boys who needed a positive male role model in their life. He loved photography and leaves thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of pictures to remember him by. Someone just called me the other day to discuss putting together a retrospective of Ted’s pictures—a big project but one that we will complete—in time. He was the extrovert to my introvert; the right brained creative thinker to my left brained organized thinker. He was the idea man—I was the implementer. He was the Aires Ram--I the Taurus Bull so we locked horns on many occasions but through all of that, we were a great couple—complementing each other. He loved travel and were it not for him, I would not have traveled to Europe (including Iceland), South Africa, Central America and many Caribbean islands. He was a mentor to many and has inspired us to travel, learn about other cultures, and be fiscally responsible. His life meant something. I hate that he only lived 67 years but he really packed a lot into those years. We were so very happy those last 7 years after retiring from Northern California to Huntersville, North Carolina and for that, I am grateful.

My son, Lateef was 41 when he passed away. He was a fun loving man who wrote for a living. Not many people can do what they love and get paid for it.  Lateef was a journalism major and loved writing. He made friends wherever he went—he was the peacekeeper and could always make you laugh—no matter how low in spirits you might be. His legacy? He’s left behind a wealth of articles, essays and videos completed while he was a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and CNN. He’s left behind a family (2 children included) and a host of friends who remember him fondly, will never forget him, and try to incorporate his love of life and his love of laughter into their lives.

 I don’t pretend to understand why these kinds of things happen but I do believe that bad circumstances like this can provide opportunity for growth. So, one of the things I’m doing is looking at what kind of legacy I’d like to leave. Another thing I’m doing is remembering Ted and Lateef in my blog. They are forever in my heart.  This is, indeed, a journey.  If you're interested, I could use the company--come along with me.

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